(Roman?) Catholic — Part Two

In the first installment of this series I noted that I am a priest of the Roman Rite. However, I did not tell you what that means. I did not tell you what a Rite of the Catholic Church is, and there are many of them. To begin with, a rite is not a ritual or part of a ritual, such as the funeral rites, or the rites of Ordination or Baptism. A rite has something to do with rites as those just mentioned, but it has more to do with history. The official definition of Rite in the Church extends to a “Liturgical, theological, Spiritual and disciplinary patrimony” (Oriental Code). “The universal Catholic Church consists of particular churches in communion each other and with the Church of Rome. Each particular church is governed (apart from rare exceptions) by a bishop” (Code of Canon Law).

Jesus said that His mission was only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15:24). With the preaching to the pilgrims from many nations at Pentecost (Acts 2:9-11), the Samaritan and Ethiopian contacts of Philip (Acts 8:4-40), the outreach of Peter to the gentiles (Acts 10), and the wide ranging missionary work of Paul, the followers of Jesus soon realized that their mission was to the whole world.

We do not know how many of those present at that Pentecost event spoke the message when they returned home, or what was said in Ethiopia or the other places mentioned in Acts, but certainly there are local legends. Because the Christian message was being brought to all, the Greek adjective catholicos was used by Ignatius of Antioch to refer to the early Christian Church in his letter to the Smyrnaeans around the year 110. This common adjective (universal) had become the proper name of the historic Christian Church. Within that Universal Church, there were local histories which gave rise to the various rites. Even some of the places mentioned in Acts have had Christian histories which are remembered today in the names of the rites.

In those early years, there were three great metropolitan cities in the Roman world: Rome (in modern Italy), Antioch (in modern Syria), and Alexandria (in modern Egypt). Each of these cities became centers for Christian expansion: Rome for Europe and North Africa, Alexandria for Eastern Africa, and Antioch for the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Asia. 

Three rites which arose in the West still exist in our times: the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, and the Mozarabic Rite. Since the Diocese of Fall River is of the Roman Rite, I shall assume that all are familiar with the Roman Rite. 

The Mozarabic Rite is the smallest rite of the Catholic Church. Elements of this Catholic Rite are also found in the Western Rite Orthodox congregations and the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church.

While we know that St. Paul wanted to go to Spain, we do not know if he ever got there. Whoever did get there brought Christianity through the Greek language. Certain aspects of this Greek beginning lasted in the celebration of the Mass and in the architecture of the churches. The style of architecture was also influenced by the Visigoths, who ruled in the fifth century, and the Moslems, who held sway from 711 to 1492. Before more recent translations into Latin, the ancient books of worship were written in Visigoth and in a mixed language version.

Over the centuries, this rite has suffered efforts at unification under the Roman Rite and various attempts at preservation and renewal. The present status is one of respect for legitimate heritage in the one Catholic Church.

The Mozarabic Rite Mass is longer in duration than that of the Roman Rite. Imagery and ceremony are used extensively. Ashes were used here for the first time within Liturgical celebrations. Previously, marking people for penance with ashes was done outside of Liturgical events. Extensive use is made of responsories between the celebrant and the people during the Mozarabic Mass, something which Catholics of the Roman Rite often resist.

There are seven variable prayers during the Mozarabic Mass, while in the Roman Rite there are three, along with the free form Prayer of the Faithful. Following the oldest Mozarabic usage, the modern Missal uses the words of consecration from 1 Corinthians 11:24, Luke 22:20, and Matthew 26:28 rather than the word of consecration of the Roman Missal. 

Whereas in the Roman Missal, all the Eucharistic prayers are addressed to God the Father, in the Mozarabic Missal, some are addressed to Christ.

We move on to the more modern status of this smallest of rites. In 1842, all of the Mozarabic parishes except two were suppressed in the Spanish city of Toledo. In 1851, the chaplains of Capilla Mozarabe were reduced from 13 to eight. By the early 20th century, the only place where the rite was practiced on a regular basis was in the Capilla Mozarabe in Toledo. 

The Mozarabic Rite is still celebrated daily in the Capilla Mozarabe. Additionally, all the churches of Toledo annually celebrate this Rite on the Mozarabic feast of the Incarnation (December 18) and on the feast day of St. Ildefonsus of Toledo (January 23). The two Mozarabic parishes in the city now have about two hundred families. The rite is also used on certain days in the Capilla de Talavera in Salamanca and every Tuesday in a monastery of Poor Clare Sisters in Madrid. 

Outside of Spain, the rite has also been celebrated at the Vatican four times in recent years: in October 1963 at St. Peter’s Basilica during Vatican II before all the participants, by Pope St. John Paul II in May of 1992 on the occasion of the promulgation of the new Mozarabic Missal and Lectionary, in December of 2000 during the end of the Great Jubilee, and finally by Archbishop B.R. Plaza of Toledo in 2015.

This tells you a little bit about the Mozarabic Rite, the smallest rite of the Catholic Church and one of the three surviving Western Rites. The third surviving Western Rite is the Ambrosian Rite. More about that later. 

Father Martin L. Buote is a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese and a frequent contributor to The Anchor.


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